Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Wednesday criticized Justice Samuel Alito’s claim that Congress has no authority to regulate the Supreme Court, calling his comments “unwise and unwelcome” as Senate Democrats push an ethics reform package for justices.
Durbin fired back at the third longest-tenured member of the court over his recent remarks to The Wall Street Journal’s opinion page, saying in a statement that Alito “is not the 101st member” of the Senate.
The No. 2-ranked Senate Democrat also noted the Court has “resisted efforts” to work on an ethics reform, pointing to Chief Justice John Roberts’s decision to decline an appearance before the panel to discuss the ethics of justices.
“Now, Justice Alito is providing speculative public commentary on a bill that is still going through the legislative process. Let’s be clear: Justice Alito is not the 101st member of the United States Senate,” Durbin said. “His intervention in Article I activity is unwise and unwelcome.”
The committee last month approved an ethics bill along party lines that would require justices to adopt a new code of conduct and create a transparent process for individuals to submit ethics complaints against justices.
The effort by Senate Democrats comes on the heels of numerous reports saying Justices Clarence Thomas and Alito accepted gifts worth tens of thousands of dollars from GOP mega-donors, including Harlan Crow and Paul Singer.
“The ethical conduct of Supreme Court Justices is a serious matter within this Committee’s jurisdiction. Ensuring ethical conduct by the justices is critical to the Court’s legitimacy,” Durbin said. “The next time Justice Alito thinks about taking a private plane to a billionaire-funded fishing trip, he should have to ask more than ‘Can I take this empty seat?’ He should have to ask if doing so is consistent with his legally-mandated ethical obligations.”
Durbin added the Senate Democratic effort will continue after lawmakers return from the monthlong August recess. The proposal would also compel justices and law clerks to abide by disclosure rules for gifts, travel and income that are as rigorous as those for members of Congress.
However, it is unlikely to go any further because it needs 60 votes to advance in the Senate.